The difference between Yoga and physical exercise
Right next to the open deck where I teach yoga classes, there is a beach gym. A muscle gym, I guess you'd call it, where weight training is the primary focus. Both the gym and the yoga deck have an incredible ocean view, both are amazing places to do a morning workout, and the people working out at both are actively improving their well-being.
However, it would probably be fair to say that each venue approaches exercise in a different way.
Physical exercise and yogic exercise … what exactly is the difference?
The first real difference is how we move. Physical exercise generally involves quick and forceful body movements that often lead to exerting muscles to the point of fatigue. When taking part in physical exercise we tend to believe that we must push ourselves to our limit in order to become stronger, faster or fitter.
Yoga poses, on the other hand, involve practicing slow and comfortable movements that bring stability to the body. Through taking the time to correct posture and alignment, we can safely stretch and lengthen the body in a way that allows our muscles to open up and release tension without causing exertion.
Strong v's Lean
Doing physical exercise makes our bodies stronger, but muscle growth can also shorten the muscles, which results in the body becoming less flexible. This is especially the case with weight training, as it develops large muscle mass away from the bone.
Yoga creates lean, but also strong muscles, due to the bending, twisting and stretching of the body. Holding yoga poses while breathing deeply will tone and lengthen the muscles, while at the same time creating strength by using our own body as a weight.
Another difference is our breathing. During physical exercise, the breath is not usually addressed to the extent that it is in yoga. Breaths tend to be shorter and faster during most physical exercises, meaning the physiological benefits of calming the mind and nervous system are not felt.
Whereas, by consciously focusing on deep breathing while practicing yoga, the senses, the mind and the nervous system are managed and improved just as much as the physical body.
The biggest difference between physical exercise and yogic exercise however, is probably how we feel once the exercise has been completed.
After physical exercise; like jogging, weight training, aerobics, kick-boxing, rowing or spinning; the muscles, body and mind can sometimes feel tired or sore. Whereas, after a yoga practice; the muscles, mind and body feel open, re-energised and rejuvenated.
Other Yoga benefits
Yoga also provides some benefits that have no clear comparisons to physical exercise. The bends and twists during yoga actually massage and work our internal organs to aid digestion and internal functions. And several poses affect different glands in our bodies that balance hormone levels, and reduce stress by soothing the nervous system.
Having said all that, my intention here is not to suggest that yoga is better than physical exercise. Moving our bodies, increasing our oxygen intake, challenging ourselves, raising our heartbeat and exerting our muscles in a safe way is good for our over-all health.
But life is about finding balance right?
And balancing the effects of physical exercise - by lengthening the muscles and releasing tension in the form of yoga poses and yoga breathing - can greatly improve the quality of our physical workouts. As well as our quality of life.
Have yourself a great day